Can You Find Love and Romance in the Workplace?
Finding Love At the Office: Risky Business?
Is Romeo Only A Cubicle Away?
My great-grandmother used to say, "There ain't a pot too crooked that there ain't a lid to fit it." True, some people do have more dents and dings, scorch marks and missing handles. Finding that perfect fitting lid can feel downright impossible. But it's a matter of knowing where to look.
If you're single, have you considered that the biggest pool of potential dating partners might just be at the office? Could you have a potential love match sitting in the next department or even the next cube? Is it worth the risks to find out?
Boom Chicka Wow Wow
Many employees are willing to take their chances when it comes to dating their co-workers. Acceptance of the workplace as a place to meet possible dating partners varies by age, with millennial generation employees being considerably more open to dating coworkers and even their supervisors.1
Reader Experience Poll
Have you ever dated a coworker?
Romance On Display
Office Romance: More Common Than You Think
In a 2014 Vault.com survey, 56% of respondents acknowledged dating a coworker at some point in their careers2,3 Almost half of respondents in another survey (47%) reported observing romantic relationships in the workplace.4
Although couples who meet through work are more likely to marry, not everyone who participates in workplace dating is single.5 AshleyMadison.com, a website that connects people looking to commit adultery (whoa, seriously?), conducted a survey of its members and found that 37% of women and 46% of men have had an affair with a co-worker.6 Among these cheaters, 60% of men and 72% of women indicated that their first encounter with an affair partner was at an office holiday party.
Thus, it seems that amid tight deadlines, out-of-control e-mail, and office politics, there may also be love and romance. Boom chicka wow wow... .
When Love Blooms At Work
Working Well With Others
Each week, you spend 40 hours or more working in the close company of like-minded people. With cubicle and office space at a premium, you overhear their conversations, both personal and professional.
You take lunch breaks together. You collaborate on projects, learn how they think, watch them succeed and fail. You observe how they handle stress and treat others.
You see what they're made of. And before you know it, cupid strikes. Strong organizational culture increases the likelihood that employees will date someone on the company team.7
Hey, Stay Professional
A Coworker's Perspective: You Can't Un-Know Some Things
I never saw this one coming.
I complimented my coworker on how buoyant she looked. "Lauren" exuded new levels of confidence and wore a happy glow. She had replaced her usual dowdy outfits with trendy new work attire. She had dropped four dress sizes and highlighted her hair.
In just a few months, she had become a new woman. "So what's the secret to your success, Lauren?" I asked. I expected references to portion control and Zumba, but surely not this.
She beamed, "These days I am having a lot of sex! I mean A. Lot. Of. It. And he works right here in the office." There are some things you can't un-know.
Each of the men in our office was either married or gay. And when she told me who her clandestine cupid was, I couldn't erase the mental image of those two coworkers going at it.
Be kind to coworkers. Leave the details out.
Why Do Workers Date Their Collegues?
According to psychologists, four motives seem to drive workplace romances:8
- similarity of interests and experiences
- time - you share intimate details of your life with the people you spend the most time with
- ease of opportunity - it's more convenient to date someone you already know than to meet someone new, and
- hook-up - purely physical. (Didn't I say, "Boom chicka wow wow?")
Potential Benefits Of Dating Another Employee
If your heart is aflutter over a coworker, know that there are both pros and cons to striking up an office romance.
- You have a built-in lunch partner, office ally, ride share partner, and date to official company functions.
- You probably have similar work hours and holidays.
- Going to work becomes exciting.
- Your partner will understand the minutiae of your day because you share friends, colleagues, and even values.
But Romeo, beware. (And that goes for Juliette, too.) Office romances can come with huge risks that employees typically don't consider until it's too late.
Danger: Workplace Romances Come with Risks
The Downsides of Workplace Dating
There's love in the air, and you assume coworkers don't notice your new habit of lingering too long at your coworker's cubicle. You're also dressing nicer and swapping flirty glances and remarks.
If you think your romance is under their radar, you're probably wrong. Other employees do notice, and they talk about it, too. After all, most people are terrible at keeping secrets.9
Perceptions of Favoritism and Inequity
Best Piece Of Advice I've Heard On the Topic:
"Don't get your honey where you get your money."
What Is A "Work Spouse?"
A "work husband" or "work wife" refers to a platonic relationship between two people who work closely together.
The special bond usually arises from working long hours and in close proximity to one another. In many ways, the relationship can resemble a marriage -- minus the physical intimacy.12 Work spouses share:
- strong emotional support
- vetting of ideas
- advice and inspiration
- practical help and
- inside jokes and discussions regarding office politics.
According to Vault.com's 2014 survey, 38% of female respondents said they had a "work husband" and 27% of men said they had a "work wife."
Know Your Boundaries
To affair-proof your marriage to your real spouse and preserve your relationship with a work spouse, have a clear sense of boundaries. For example:
- know what topics are inappropriate to discuss (e.g., details about your marriage, intimate subjects)
- avoid drinking together, as alcohol reduces inhibitions
- avoid physical contact that your real spouse would disapprove of (e.g., hugs)
- introduce real and work spouses, and
- keep communication open with other co-workers and your real spouses.
Do You Know the Risks?
Downsides of finding romance at the office include:
- concerns about distraction and loss of productivity
- awkward workplace dynamics: Particularly when an office romance ends, tension can arise in work groups. Trust is questioned and coworkers take sides. Team assignments and tight deadlines can become miserable experiences -- for both the former love birds and their team mates.
- being the subject of office gossip: Gossip wastes valuable work time and fosters distrust and dissatisfaction. It can also ruin reputations. Women are more frequently the targets of gossip. 8 They are also more likely to be suspected of using their relationships to get ahead (e.g., "sleeping her way to the top") and being overly loyal to their romantic partners. Employees who date coworkers thus could find their judgment questioned and career prospects damaged.
- Sometimes, there's just no getting over you. Failed office romances have been known to result in stalking, retaliation threats, or worse. Don't think it cannot happen to you. As a former HR Investigator, I have investigated multiple complaints involving scorned spouses who sought public revenge. You don't know how ugly a situation can get until a jealous spouse seeks retribution for an office affair.
- legally actionable allegations of workplace and criminal misconduct - You might perceive that your sexual advances are welcome. You might think that after a coworker has turned you down, it's okay to be persistent and ask again (and again after that). But especially if you are a manager dating a subordinate, you could find yourself the subject of allegations of misconduct that range from sexual harassment to false imprisonment, assault and battery to defamation. Sexual harassment can cost companies not only large monetary settlements but also expenses related to investigating, litigating, and arbitrating complaints. And when it costs your company, it's probably gonna cost you, too.
- resentment among coworkers who can feel angry, jealous, uncomfortable, and intimidated -- especially if the office romance involves a boss and subordinate. Even the perceptions of sexual favoritism or preferential treatment of a romantic partner are a potential recipe for disaster.
ABC News 20/20 Reports On Modern Office Romances
Office Romances: What's An Employer To Do?
Employers cannot stop people from dating and falling in love in the workplace. However, they can try to manage the associated risks.
Companies usually take one of the following approaches:
Option 1: Outlaw Romance In the Workplace - Some employers strictly prohibit employees from forming romantic attachments to other company employees. However, this approach is hard to enforce. It generally sends people "underground." Who wants a workforce that lies and sneaks around?
Love Is A Splendid Thing
Option 2: Let People Use Common Sense - With an eye on controlling legal liability, other employers adopt policies that strictly forbid managers from dating any subordinate in their chain-of-command. Otherwise, they expect dating employees to use common sense in conducting themselves professionally.
Option 3: Cupid Contracts - Love or cupid contracts are another option. Companies adopting this approach require dating employees to notify Human Resources (HR). This "dating declaration" puts the company on notice that the relationship is consensual. Dating employees acknowledge relevant policies, assure that they will engage in professional work behavior, and agree to notify the company when the relationship is over.
Regardless of the option chosen, employers that are subject to federal and state civil rights laws should at minimum have anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies in place, including a clear process for reporting and investigating complaints. Additionally, a solid conflict of interest policy should outline expectations about mixing business and personal relationships (e.g., with suppliers, competitors, or customers). Consult an attorney for legal advice.
Famous People Who Met Their Mates Through Work
When Met & Married
Google co-founder Sergey Brin met Anne Wojcicki when Wojcicki's sister, a Google executive, sublet her garage to him in the company's early days. Brin also met his current girlfriend, Amanda Rosenberg, at work.
Met 1998, Married 2007, Divorced 2015
Barack Obama met his wife, Michelle, when he was a summer associate at a Chicago law firm. At first she rejected his requests for a date, but when he offered to quit his job, she accepted his invitation.
Met 1989, Married 1992
Bill Gates, then-CEO of Microsoft, sat next to Microsoft employee Melissa Ann French at a trade-fair dinner.
Met 1987, Married 1994
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had a six-year affair with an Agriculture Committee clerk, Callista Bisek. He divorced his second wife shortly after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Met 1993, Married 2000
Faith Hill was the opening act for country crooner Tim McGraw during his "Spontaneous Combustion" tour.
Met 1996, Married in 1997
Love At Work: Impossible to Prevent, Challenging to Manage
Reader Opinion Poll
Are office romances worth the risk?
Workplace Romances: Putting All Your Eggs In One Basket?
5 Tips From HR: Before You Date A Fellow Employee
1. Know Your Company's Policies - Before you ask out your crush in the next cubicle, understand what policies govern your employment. Yes, reading policies are boring. However, you could get fired for breaking them.
Wondering where to start first? Try the company's anti-harassment policy and the conflict of interest policy. Ask your boss or HR if you have questions about where to obtain company policies, or if you want to discuss whether workplace dating is permitted. They may have objective, time-tested advice for you.
2. Think It Through - Consider whether you want to put all your eggs in one basket (e.g., both your career and your love life). How much do you really know about your coworker's character outside of work? Consider taking the relationship slow.
Be cautious if your love interest has a history of dating others in the workplace. Your situation could get very complicated. Think through the practical repercussions : What if the relationship does not end well? (The same considerations go for dating a customer, competitor, or supplier.) Also, watch that pillow talk.
And if you're a manager who seeks to date an employee in your department? Cool your jets and go read that anti-harassment policy again. Remember, too, that bosses have higher standards of ethical reporting and are expected to be more knowledgeable regarding potential risks.
3. Taming the Rumor Mill - Word travels fast, even if you're trying to control how and when others find out about your relationship.
One study found that even though many employees had participated in office romances themselves, most employees had a negative perception of it. They also tended to direct their anger or annoyance towards the female in the relationship through gossip.10
Coworkers generally respond better when they find out about the relationship directly, rather than through gossip.11 Your boss in particular needs to hear the news from you.
4. Don't Be A Digital Dum-Dum - Don't transmit images or messages using company equipment that you wouldn't want your grandma or the entire world to see. (Think: Internet). Keep your personal and professional social network accounts separate. Also, be clear on the digital information access you might be providing electronic friends or followers. Many "secrets" have been accidentally divulged through social media.
5. Nobody Needs To See That: Declare Work A PDA-Free Zone - At work, avoid physical contact with your love interest. Public Displays of Affection (PDAs) tend to offend and will harm your professional image. Also, be sure you are both on the same page regarding the status of your relationship, and agree on when and how you want to present it to others.
Strongly Worded Ballad: 99 Slang Words for Having Sex
The rumor mill may use some of these terms regarding you and your coworker. Is your attraction so strong that you're willing to risk it?
If Love Turns Cold, Then What?
1Fisher, A. (2013, June 7). Why your office romance is your employer’s business. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2013/06/07/why-your-office-romance-is-your-employers-business/.
2Adams, Susan. "The State of The Office Romance, 2012." Forbes. Last modified February 10, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/02/10/the-state-of-the-office-romance-2012/.
3Vault.com. "Love Is In The Air: Vault's 2014 Office Romance Survey." Last modified February 12, 2014. http://www.vault.com/blog/workplace-issues/love-is-in-the-air-vaults-2014-office-romance-survey/.
4Workplace Options. "Millennials More Likely to be Smitten with Superiors, Co-Workers." Last modified February 8, 2012.
5Styles, Ruth. "Relationships that begin in the workplace most likely to result in marriage new study reveals." Mail Online. Last modified September 29, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2437181/Relationships-begin-workplace-likely-result-marriage-new-study-reveals.html.
6The Huffington Post. "Office Affairs Begin At Holiday Parties, AshleyMadison.com Reports." Last modified December 7, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/03/office-affairs_n_2213942.html.
7Moneywatch.com. "Office Romance: 3 Rules for a Workplace Relationship." CBS News. Last modified July 13, 2010. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/office-romance-3-rules-for-a-workplace-relationship/.
8Horan, Sean M. "Workplace Romance Motives." Psychology Today. Last modified June 5, 2013. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/adventures-in-dating/201306/workplace-romance-motives.
9Sloat, Sarah. "You can’t keep a secret for long." Salon.com. Last modified November 21, 2013. http://www.salon.com/2013/11/21/you_cant_keep_a_secret_for_long_partner/.
10Drexler, Peggy. "The Sexist Truth About Office Romances." The Daily Beast. Last modified April 3, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peggy-drexler/the-sexist-truth-about-office-romance_b_5664393.html.
11Borreli, Lizette. "Office Romance: How Coworkers' View Of Workplace Relationships Influences Behavior In Couples." Medical Daily. Last modified February 10, 2014. http://www.medicaldaily.com/office-romance-how-coworkers-view-workplace-relationships-influences-behavior-couples-268995.
12Dr. Phil.com. "How to Keep Boundaries with a “Work Spouse”." Accessed February 16, 2014. http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/693.
Love Match: Sometimes You Just Can't Stop Love
© 2014 FlourishAnyway